177 detained in less than a week as part of crackdown on Kurds ahead of presidential runoff

One hundred seventy-seven people were detained in several investigations in less than a week as part of a crackdown on Kurds ahead of a presidential runoff in Turkey on May 28, according to the Mezopotamya News Agency (MA).  

Twelve musicians who performed during the election campaign of the pro-Kurdish Green Left Party (YSP) were detained on Wednesday in Turkey’s western province of İzmir. In an investigation initiated by the İzmir Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, the musicians were taken into custody for allegedly disseminating terrorist propaganda. They performed during the opening ceremonies of the YSP’s election campaign offices in the province.

The prosecutor’s office launched the investigation due to the alleged dissemination of propaganda for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.

On Tuesday police detained at least 65 people including members of the YSP as well as executives from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and the Peoples’ Democratic Congress (HDK). The raids in 11 provinces were carried out as part of investigations overseen by the chief public prosecutor’s offices in Tekirdağ, Mersin and Mardin. The warrants included charges of “aiding and abetting a terrorist organization.”

On Thursday Turkish police and gendarmes conducted a series of raids in Hakkari and Şanlıurfa provinces, resulting in the detention of at least 32 individuals. Thirty were detained in Hakkari, while an additional two were taken into custody in the Halfeti district of southeastern Şanlıurfa province. The detainees, who include members of pro-Kurdish political parties, face accusations of “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization” and “membership in a terrorist organization.”

Nineteen people were detained on Monday as part of an investigation over a celebration held in Ankara on March 19 to mark the spring festival of Nevruz. The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched the investigation due to the alleged dissemination of propaganda for the outlawed PKK.

Nevruz is traditionally marked by Kurds in the second half of March as the first day of spring, with colorful celebrations across the country’s predominantly Kurdish southeast. However, the celebrations, which have a highly symbolic meaning for Kurds, have often been marred by heavy-handed police intervention.

Four young Kurdish men who were doing a traditional dance to music being played from loudspeakers were detained by İstanbul police and forced to lie on the ground in handcuffs on Sunday in İstanbul’s Kadıköy district.

According to MA, several Kurds were also detained as parts of separate investigations in Şırnak, Manisa, İstanbul and Adana provinces during the week.

Turkey is poised to hold a runoff on May 28 following results from the May 14 presidential election that showed President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan failing to secure a victory against his secular rival, Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.

Turkey’s embattled incumbent has often accused the HDP of links to the outlawed PKK, which the party denies. The PKK has been waging a bloody campaign in Turkey’s southeast since 1984.

Since the HDP faces a closure case on terrorism charges, it ran in the parliamentary elections under the banner of the YSP to avoid the risks of the party’s closure before the elections.

The YSP secured 61 seats in parliament with 8.8 percent of the vote.

The HDP said in March it would not field a presidential candidate in the May 14 elections.

The party announced in late April that it would support Kılıçdaroğlu and reiterated its endorsement for the runoff.

Nuray Özdoğan, a co-spokesperson for the HDP’s law and human rights commissions, said on May 7 that 295 people were detained and 61 were arrested in several investigations over the course of a month as part of a crackdown on the HDP.

A government crackdown on Kurdish parties and politicians in Turkey had reached new heights following a coup attempt in the country in July 2016.

Dozens of democratically elected Kurdish mayors were removed from office, while a large number of Kurdish politicians, including the former co-chairs of the HDP, were jailed following the coup attempt.

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